Non-theistic Nebraska State Senator Questions Orientation of ‘Ex-Gay’ Man

I posted recently about Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers. He served for 38 years starting in 1970, making him the longest-serving senator in the state’s history, until he was term-limited out in 2008. When he was eligible to run again last november, he ran and won handily.


Chambers is one of the few non-theistic, high-ranking politicians in the country. He’s also African-American and a powerhouse legislator.

Recently, the legislature held hearings on three bills that would affect LGBT residents: LB380, LB485, and LB385, which deal with things like prohibiting discrimination and allowing unmarried couples (including gay ones) to adopt children.

As you might imagine, Christian groups want to be able to discriminate against gays and lesbians and they certainly don’t want them to be able to adopt children.

Chambers was a voice of reason (and hilarity) no matters who delivered testimony against the bills.

Case in point, during the hearings, Christian Gordon Opp testified about how he used to be gay but turned straight. (Magic!) He argued that these bills would “violate my freedom to hold the belief that homosexuality is not equal to heterosexuality.” Being gay is a choice, dammit! Opp, steeped in ignorance of science, added that if homosexuality were genetic, then every twin of a gay person would also be gay. Because, in his mind, genetics is an all or nothing proposition…

After minutes of hearing this, Chambers jumped in… (Around the 3:17 mark. You may need earbuds to hear this properly):

Chambers: Are you a geneticist?

Opp: No, I’m not.

Chambers: You said if there are identical twins, if one were homosexual, the other would be also, if it were a genetic trait. Is that what you said?… You can just say you’d rather not answer…

[Repeats question.]

Opp: … Yes, if the trait were simply genetic.

Chambers: Now, I’m asking, are you aware of this next thing: Are you aware of the fact that there have been identical twins and they have different color hair? Are you aware of that ever [happening]?

Opp: No, I’m not aware of that, but I’m also not aware of any identical twins who are…

Chambers: You don’t have to argue, because I’m not trying to make you say what you might think I’m trying to get you to say. I’m just asking questions. When you answer, that’s all I ask. Now, when you were homosexual in your orientation, were you a practicing homosexual?

Opp: For four years, yes.

Chambers: Did you enjoy the sex that you had?

[Audience murmurs in rage.]

Chambers: That’s alright. We have a lot of Christians in this room and they do not respect the rules as they should. And I’m accustomed to that. [Back to Opp] Now, you brought up the fact that you practiced homosexuality. Did you enjoy the sex that you had, when you were having it?

Opp: I’ll be glad to answer that. But can I also give a little explanation? I think that’s not just a yes or no answer.

Chambers: Then did you say that you enjoy the heterosexual experiences you’re having now? Did you say that yourself?

Opp: Of course I enjoy that…

Chambers: So, might it be, that you were neither homosexual or heterosexual, but bisexual?…

Opp: I did enjoy the homosexual sex, but for the wrong reasons. I learned the lie that it was. That it was trying to meet needs that I shouldn’t get met in a sexual way, and that’s true for a lot of different people… have different types of sexual issues.

Chambers: I’m not even questioning your motivation for why you did either what you did while a practicing homosexual or why you do what you do as a heterosexual. I’m just indicating that when a person enjoys sex with both genders, the person is bisexual.

Opp: I’m not bisexual.

Chambers: That’s all that I have to ask you. Thank you.

Somehow, in just a few minutes, Chambers established that Opp doesn’t understand genetics, implied that Opp never really “turned straight,” and got in a dig at the Christians in the crowd.

The second half of the video features Chambers questioning Dr. Edward Stringham, a Christian psychologist who has urged the Board of Mental Health Practice to allow him and his colleagues to refuse gay patients while also refusing to refer them to more tolerant psychologists.

Once Chambers was through with him, though, he was thoroughly embarrassed and his lack of knowledge of science was exposed:

Chambers: Let me ask you this. If there were a situation where the accepted principles of psychology, dealing with a specific matter, actually conflicted with your personal opinion about the way it ought to be, would you treat that patient on the basis of these accepted principles of psychology or on the basis of your personal opinion?

Stringham: I’ve faced that many times in different issues, and sometimes it’s one, and sometimes it’s the other.

Chambers: Well, when it’s your personal opinion, what leads you to forsake the established principles of psychology to rely on a personal opinion which conflicts with those principles?

Stringham: Sometimes, it’s [evaluating] research studies that might be fewer in number but I think are better in quality than the research that’s been established by psychology.

Chambers: So then it’s not strictly your personal opinion.

Stringham: It’s not strictly my personal opinion.

Chambers: There can be two valid approaches here and you chose one rather than the other. Well, I’m talking about an opinion that you have which is clearly an opinion. Or do you have no opinions that conflict with established principles of psychology?

Chambers: Has there been, ever, a situation where an established principle of psychology overruled a personal opinion of yours and you relied on this principle of psychology rather than your personal opinion?

[Outburst from room: This seems like a filibuster!]

Chambers: I think whoever does that, has an outburst, Mr. Chairman, you ought to have him removed from the room… These are Christians…

Stringham: In answer to your question, yeah, I can think of at least a limited number of times when I have leaned entirely and predominantly on a principle of psychology, even if it intuitively to me didn’t seem right, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

Chambers: Now, when we come to the issue of homosexuality… is it your view, either as a psychologist or personally, that homosexuality is an acquired or voluntary orientation?

Stringham: That’s when I have to give a little bit more a complex answer. I think… the research has shown clearly at this point, it’s not genetic. Not genetically based. The Human Genome Project showed that. I suppose you could say, it’s not genetic, some might say it’s acquired. But the research is much more complex than that… and it’s not unequivocally clear from our research exactly what causes it. The only honest answer is we don’t really know.

Chambers: So there is research that indicates it may be genetic.

Stringham: Well… the Human Genome Project, completed in 2001, has the complete genetic map. And the Human Genome Project concluded that there was no gene for homosexuality, period.

Chambers: And who conducted that particular work?

Stringham: That was by Dr. Francis Collins, who was the leader of it… and a group of other scientists. It’s a widely-known, revered scientific study that actually created the map of the human genome.

Chambers: Does mainstream psychology view homosexuality as a sickness or an aberration?

Stringham: Um, mainstream psychology does not view homosexuality as a sickness or aberration.

Chambers: Do you?

Stringham: … I would not say a sickness. Maybe an aberration would be close to being fair.

Chambers: So if somebody who was a homosexual came to you, would you try to treat that as you would other psychological aberrations and remove from that person this aberration?

Stringham: Not necessarily. Because my overarching beliefs, Senator, is the ethical principle of self-determination. And I believe, and this is a mainstream psychological position, is that people have the right to choose certain aspects of their lives…

Chambers: If somebody is happy doing what they’re doing and they’re not violating the law to do it, then you think they should be allowed to be left alone and be happy?

Stringham: To go back to your question, as a patient in psychology, I make no efforts to attempt to persuade or change somebody’s sexual orientation if there’s no interest in that on their part.

Chambers: Thank you. You’ve been very helpful and very cooperative and I appreciate it.

Stringham: Well, thank you, Senator Chambers.

Chambers: One other thing: Do you feel the questioning that I was presenting to you was disrespectful toward you?

Stringham: No, I don’t.

Chambers: And did you have or feel any compulsion from me to answer a certain way?

Stringham: Uh, no I don’t think I did.

Chambers: Do you think your time was wasted by engaging in this discussion?

Stringham: No, Senator, I don’t.

Chambers: And I don’t think it was either. Thank you.

There’s no genetic basis for homosexuality? Really? Let’s see what Francis Collins actually said:

“An area of particularly strong public interest is the genetic basis of homosexuality. Evidence from twin studies does in fact support the conclusion that heritable factors play a role in male homosexuality. However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be gay is about 20% (compared with 2-4 percent of males in the general population), indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations [emphasis added].”

In other words, genetics isn’t everything, but it’s not to be dismissed in any discussion about the causes of homosexuality. The one person Stringham cited in defense of his views says something very different from what was implied. If that’s the shoddy research Stringham does to acquire his knowledge, why would any patient rely on him?

One final remark from Chambers: In the video below (around 1:08), Chambers tells the crowd that he has “not a corpuscle of religion in my body”:

Awesome. I love this guy :)

(via Aksarbent — Thanks to Enzo for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Stev84

    He could have easily refuted the gene crap. All the human genome project did was map a part of the nucleotide sequence. It did not identify all specific genes, let alone their functions. Just because you know the sequence or even identified a certain region does not mean you know what it does. And they never pretended to do anything of the sort.

  • m6wg4bxw

    What a calm, measured, awesome guy!

  • guest

    so it’s epigenetics? I need to switch my research cool!

  • Travis Myers

    Chambers is a badass.

  • Rain

    So when the guy said “the human genome project showed that”, then that means he didn’t know what the heck he was talking about? And presumably he made the statement due to some biased agenda that he has? That is what “quacks” do, is it not? I though that was the way “quacks” behave. Maybe I am mistaken and he’s not a “quack” at all. Quack quack quack quack…

  • jamssx

    A good friend of mine at university was an identical twin. He was completely as he liked to put it ‘flaming’. His brother on the hand was a complete womanizer. Identical twins with totally different sexualities.

  • Rovin’ Rockhound

    Not only a badass, but he kind of looks like god (the Morgan Freeman version, of course)

  • tasteless chap

    I think I have a new hero: Ernie Chamber!!

  • Jordan Olsen

    Polite badass :)

  • Jansen Waddell

    Homophobia stems purely from absolute ignorance. I myself was homophobic, growing up in a dogmatically homophobic society (homophobia, much like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, is just the right thing to do here.) I remember using these same arguments to justify my position: “It’s an unethical lifestyle choice!” and blah blah. I didn’t sit down with a gay person, have a chat, and conclude that they were to be loathed, I simply believed it because I believed it. The moment I stopped to think that perhaps these people “chose to be gay” the same way I “chose to be straight”, I stopped seeing them for their sexuality and started seeing them for their humanity. If only the Opps and Stringhams of the world would stop to think more often.

  • ragart

    Less so than you think. Wouldn’t a flaming gay guy be a ‘maninizer’? :-) But what is your point? The claim isn’t that genetics is the sole determinant of sexuality, but that it has a significant influence on sexuality, therefore your personal experience with a single set of twins is not sufficient evidence against this claim.

  • notasourpuss

    Ernie Chambers is my hero!

  • Jason Sullivan
  • Anon

    I’m not sure if it was genetic or a choice, all I know is that I really, really do not want to have sex with anybody who has a penis and identifies as a man.

    This guy is awesome and I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks he looks like Morgan Freeman.

  • Golfie98

    All I know is I have no desire to have sex with anyone who has a vagina and identifies as a woman but hey each to their own, There is a bit of the Morgan about him.

    Oh and you are right – it shouldn’t matter if it is genetic or a choice. It only seems to matter to those whose religion says it is wrong.

  • James Henline

    I think the only question that ever needs to be asked of homophobes is “So when did you choose to be straight?”.

    Unless they can give you a day then your answer as to why you are gay is the same answer as to why they are straight.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I didn’t sit down with a gay person, have a chat, and conclude that they were to be loathed…

    It wouldn’t matter if it were any old gay person. But if it were Rob Portman’s son…

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I like how he kept pointing out when Christians were out of order.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Maybe, maybe not. People are looking into it.Epigenetics is a hot topic recently, so the concept might be worked too hard. At any rate, human behaviour is complicated, and for many behaviours, geneticists speak of influence rather than yes/no genetic contributions.

  • kaydenpat

    Cool dude. There never is any legitimate ground for bigotry.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Tangentially related:

    Virus and Genes Involved in Causation of Schizophrenia

    Mar. 8, 2013 — Viruses and genes interact in a
    way that may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia
    significantly. This happens already in the developing fetus…

    It’s complicated. “May increase the risk.” Once again, not a clear yes or no, even though genes are involved.Viruses and genes – neither of these is a personal choice.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Jack Spratt could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean…

  • decompressor

    To me its NOT a choice as in me being straight is not a choice but just what I am. But really, I don’t give a damn if it were a choice! Human beings are human beings and tell me they deserve to be discriminated against because of your bullshit religion will get you punched in the face. Talk about lack of tolerance, I have 0 tolerance for this bullshit religious agenda.

  • Anna

    However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be gay is about 20% (compared with 2-4 percent of males in the general population)

    Wait, what? I know the study he’s referencing, but that statistic is for fraternal twins, not identical ones.

  • Rain

    “We found 52 percent of identical twin brothers of gay men also were gay, compared with 22 percent of fraternal twins, compared with 11 percent of genetically unrelated brothers,” said J. Michael Bailey, an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, “which is exactly the kind of pattern you would want to see if something genetic were going on.” By “unrelated,” Dr. Bailey was referring to brothers by adoption.

    So 52 percent for identical twins. Collins goofed on that one I guess. But I can’t picture Collins quoting idiotic pseudo-scientific fundamentalist press releases like “Dr.” Edward Stringham did. Collins is actually a real scientist, wheres “Dr.” Stringham is possibly a “quack” hired gun or lobbyist.

  • Travis Myers

    Genetically unrelated brothers seems like an oxymoron.

  • James

    Think adopted brothers, step-brothers, and similar situations where two boys are raised in the same environment but aren’t genetically brothers.

  • Rain

    I think he means adoptive brothers.

  • Rich Wilson

    To be clear it’s not “genetic or choice”, it’s more like X% heritable, Y% non-choice environment and Z% choice. (And yes, the z% is just there for completeness). Things can be ‘not choice’ and also ‘not genetic’. And of course very few things are purely genetic.

  • Rich Wilson

    Pretty sure there was also a correlation found with birth order. The more boys a woman has, the more likely they are to be gay.

    For some reason people seem less interested in studying women, so we don’t know if the same thing holds true for lesbians.

  • gg


  • Anon

    ‘All I know is I have no desire to have sex with anyone who has a vagina and identifies as a woman but hey each to their own’

    We can trade. I’ll have sex with the women. You have sex with the men.

    We’ll both be happy. And conservative Christians will still hate us.
    And no, it doesn’t matter. People should be in a relationship with whoever makes them happy (providing everything is legal and consensual) and everybody who is not part of that relationship should keep their noses out of it.

  • newavocation

    No Shit! It would be great, the media would have a hard time not reporting what he has to say.

  • Bad_homonym

    They should also be asked when they actively thought about having same sex, and rejected the idea. After all you can’t make a ‘choice’ without considering both options!!

  • Bad_homonym

    And someone who has a penis but identifies as a woman???

  • baal

    “Christian psychologist who has urged the Board of Mental Health Practice to allow him and his colleagues to refuse gay patients while also refusing to refer them to more tolerant psychologists.”

    I can almost understand not treating a patient you have personal problems with but then to go on and deny them referrals to someone who will treat them is unconscionable and should be a serious breach of the ethics requirements of the therapists license.